In WSU rhubarb, confusion reigns

Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich is shown at a press conference.

Prepared statements from Washington State’s athletic director and football coach in recent days suggest a clear policy in regard to access to weight rooms and locker rooms.

Athletes sitting out because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic must temporarily forfeit access to those facilities. Others are still good to go.

But it’s unclear if those statements have reassured athletes who view the school’s policy as ambiguous and, in at least two cases, may be feeling estranged from teammates.

In a New York Times story published Monday and updated Tuesday, WSU receiver Kassidy Woods said he and football teammate Dallas Hobbs — both of whom support the WeAreUnited player movement in the Pac-12 — “are pretty much ostracized from the team.”

The ambiguity of WSU’s policy had reached a height Sunday night when Woods released a recorded phone conversation Saturday in which he told football coach Nick Rolovich he would sit out the season because of a medical condition, sickle cell trait, that raises his concerns about the pandemic.

Rolovich, adhering to Pac-12 and WSU policy, responds by saying that stance is within Woods’ rights, and he needn’t fear the loss of his scholarship. But when Woods later acknowledges his support for WeAreUnited, Rolovich says that could “be an an issue as far as future stuff.” Woods took that as a threat.

In the WSU football world, the tension created by that conversation hung in the air for almost 24 hours before Rolovich released a statement through the school Monday night.

“Without knowing the concerns of the group (WeAreUnited, which didn’t go public until Sunday), I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition,” he said. “I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about.”

But the final line of his statement caught many off-guard:

“WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons.”

Until then, the details of the school’s policy about virus opt-outs had been foggy. By Tuesday, however, a letter sent to athletes the previous day from athletic director Pat Chun began circulating on social media.

Athletes during the 2020-21 school year who sit out because of pandemic concerns, the letter said, have access to counseling, sports medicine, academic support, compliance advice and development programming. But they don’t have access to athletic facilities like weight rooms and locker rooms.

Despite that bit of clarity, evidence of confusion lingered.

For one thing, Woods meanwhile told the New York Times that Hobbs too was told to clear out his locker.

Hobbs, a junior defensive tackle who was one of 13 Pac-12 players to attach his name to a threatened boycott associated with WeAreUnited, hasn’t publicly said he’s bowing out of the season because of the pandemic. A school official said Tuesday, because of privacy laws, it won’t divulge the names of players who do so. So if Hobbs is being held from team activities, the reason is obscure.

Pat Nunn, a WSU sophomore defensive back who has expressed support for WeAreUnited, told the Spokesman-Review on Tuesday he plans to opt out because of the pandemic.

Woods, a sophomore slotback, apparently wants more teammates to take the virus opt-out route.

“A lot of them have reached out — ‘Man, I’m sorry,’ ” Woods said in the New York Times story. “If you’re here for me, just opt out. If we all did, what is he going to do — cut everybody from the team? You say you love me, say I’m your brother, but me and Dallas are pretty much ostracized from the team.

“It’s all about the movement,” he said. “Me and Dallas have been nothing but a service to Washington State. Our coaches don’t have anything bad to say about me. I don’t have anything bad to say about them except for dismissing me for being part of this movement.”

WSU linebacker Jahad Woods (no relation) expressed support Tuesday for Kassidy Woods on Twitter but added, “Ion care what anybody says, Rolo is a good person. He was genuinely there for us when our bro Bryce (Beekman) passed. He’s a real person that has done a lot for us most of y’all don’t know about and i can’t sit up here and act like he’s not because of the way he worded something. Kass, you”

Woods also told the NYT he was made uncomfortable by being asked to sign a liability waiver when he reported to campus for voluntary workouts July 1. A WSU source said Tuesday that players have been asked to sign “an acknowledgement form” but not a waiver.

The NYT article, an analytical piece written in first person by Billy Witz, suggested the conversation between Woods and Rolovich was revelatory.

“... to better understand how the modern-day dynamic works — and why players are more stridently calling for a voice in matters like social justice — how their images are used, straight-up pay and playing during the pandemic — all that’s necessary is to listen to a five-minute, nine-second recording of a phone call between Nick Rolovich ... and Kassidy Woods.”

Dale Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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